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Monday, May 28, 2007

Start the week @ RD/KA! : Got game!

A month in the games of
A quick check of my meticulously maintained BGG Games Played record tells me that I've played 29 boardgames across 7 gaming sessions since my last post... no, no, I'm not anal enough actually to present averages, but I'll bet some of you readers are finding that you could no more resist calculating them than could your humble scribe! There's been some roleplaying and another movie too, but more of that anon. Here then, for your delectation and delight is a round-up of a month's boardgaming.

A Tale of teasing taunts and tenacity
It all began when I was visiting Ros at the end of April. She suggested we have a game of something. I fobbed her off because I was feeling lazy. But she persisted, and soon we were playing backgammon. I, of course, could not resist telling her that she was on a hiding to nothing, seeing as how I'm a much better backgammon player than she is (a little friendly needle is always worth adding to a decent gaming table!)

I guess I'll have to develop some more of this line of needling with Ros, because the final result for 12 games was 8-4. This was a creditable showing, and far from the less-than-enjoyable (for Ros that is) utter crushing I over-confidently expected. That'll be another day.

Battlelore? Still epic
Soon thereafter, it was time for another of Badger's visits, and our continuing exploration of the wonders of DoW's Battlelore. Badger had a look through the Epic scenarios online, and settled on Epic BL 4- Moorish Giant. Here is the set-up.

Random selection of sides gave Badger the pennants (at the top of the map). Oh dear, I thought, he's got the giant. Y'see, the last time Badger and I had played with the giant, I pulled what I'd thought was a really smart move in the hope of killing it quickly. It'd only been when I saw the position after I'd made the move that I realised it was actually a bit dumb, with the potential to become an utter disaster. I got lucky that time, and managed to kill the giant before he'd been able to exploit the situation to turn it into an utter disaster. So the sight of that giant on Badger's side instead of mine made me nervous.

Working through the set-up, I gained some relief when I noted that the giant didn't get his rockpile in this game. Good, I thought- at least I won't have 3 dice ranged attacks heading my way!

Details of lore council compositions and so on escape me, but the game opened with the giant doing pretty much what I'd feared: he waded into the centre of my line and started rolling Lore on his battle dice to generate those pesky 2-hex push backs. Nothing else for it I decided: I sent my units forward hoping to kill it before it did too much damage. I reckon I threw about 2 dozen dice at the thing before it finally went down, and by the time that happened, most of my centre was on or just in front of my baseline. Meanwhile, pretty much Badger's entire army was massed in tidy formations across the middle of the battlefield. Facing this, I took a more than just a crumb of comfort from the fact that I was only down 3 banners to 2 after this titanic tussle.

My army split as it now was, and with Badger well positioned as described, I decided that I had to act fast or I was doomed. Which flank to attack was the question? At this point the cards and, ironically enough, the effects of the giant's havoc came to my aid: I could put together a decent attack on my right flank. Not only did I have the best of my dwarfs there, but I also had some units from the centre which were well positioned to assist thanks to the efforts of the giant!

I can't remember much of the details at this long remove. What I do remember is that is was nip and tuck all the way. My victory, when it came, more or less pipped Badger at the post.

Another feature of this game which I remember is that I suffered from little lore and not many powerful lore cards. Again, details escape me, but I was left with the feeling of operating on a shoestring in my lore play throughout the game. With hindsight I can tell you that that just makes my victory all the more satisfying!

Another family gathering
Badger's visit chez moi was soon followed by another visit on my part to my friend Bill and his family. Bill decided that it was time to break open his own copy of Battlelore to introduce his son Daniel to the game. Off to Agincourt it was then.

Bill and I conferred briefly: the French, with their opportunities to launch devestating cavalry charges, are the force most suited to a beginner we felt. And Bill decided that young Daniel was quite capable of being dropped into the full rules, instead of following the programmed learning DoW have cleverly provided in the BL scenario book.

The game was a great success. Daniel grasped the rules quickly and moved into action confidently with some coaching. Naturally enough I drew my own killer card for the scenario- Darken the Skies. You can be sure that, even against young Daniel in his first game, I savoured the opportunity to unleash my 20 dice! A bit of careful positioning later I did, generating a disappointingly puny 2 kills (although as Bill and I noted, that's actually only about 1 point under the average). And of course, Daniel was eventually able to unleash his cavalry and enjoy the satisfaction of sweeping me from the field.

As I said: a young gamer's ideal introduction to an exciting new game playing against a worthy opponent (even though I say so myself).

Our curry supper out of the way, a game of Settlers was next. Unless memory fails me, here are the key features. First off: in her initial setup Radka was left with a choice of a poor resource base, or a trading strategy based on the fortunate conjuction of some good resources and their port. She wisely chose the latter.

In the early game her key resource generator for this strategy was the target of the robber, and I could see that Radka was beginning to doubt the wisdom of her strategy. Naturally enough, this early setback made others the robber's target, Radka was able to develop her position, and finally pulled off a good win. I can't remember for sure (and Bill could perhaps correct me if I'm wrong), but I think I was a fairly close second.

So far then, Radka is becoming something of our Queen of Catan. Certainly she has become the player to beat.

My home is my castle (or not, as the case may be)
A recent visit to a local boardgame store (y'know, the classic kind, selling chess, backgammon, parlour and puzzle games, with a smattering of Euro and adventure games thrown in for good measure). I was looking for something in the Euro style, something Ros would enjoy, or which would go down well chez Bill. I found it in part the first of Rio Grande Games' popular Carcassone (BGG page).

Carcassone is a game I'd seen many times in my FLGS. I knew it was a popular Eurogame. I'd even looked through the box one night while visiting Gav (a name already known to regular readers, eg. from this this epic series of C&C:A and M44 games last year). So, without being able exactly to say why, I was sure that Ros would take to this game like a duck to water. And she did.

Carcassone is a simple to learn- rules on 2 sides of A4; quick to teach- 5 to 10 minutes tops; and easy to get to grips with- the various elements of the game become clear after a few plays. At the same time, the learning curve appears intriguing. There are certain obvious tactics which appear less obvious after a few games, eg. trying for huge cities. And then there are sublties about the way the game binds together the classic structure of opening, mid, and end-game, all of which appear to come down to the farmers. All of these are the hallmarks of a great game, and suggestive of clever designers who have learned good lessons from the classics.

These ruminations aside, the game was a roaring success. Ros and I both had great fun in a session which demonstrated Carcassone's addictive qualities: the final score was 5-4 to Ros. You can be sure that Ros has been waiting for me to announce to the world her triumph in our first ever session of a brand new game. Ah well, it's a fair cop guv, but society's to blame!

A mixed bag
They say brevity is the soul of wit, but in this instance it serves only to help me to get this post to bed. Although the WFRP campaign was put on hold, some of us are still getting together for regular boardgame sessions (as witness, eg. previous posts about Doom: The Boardgame- here and here, both of which were Sunday sessions turned boardgaming). Our last such session featured myself, Andy and Tony.

We had a go at Mayfair Games' Settlers of the Stone Age, which Andy had borrowed on my behalf. I enjoyed this variation on the Settlers system. It is a good game, worth having on your shelf to bring out now and again, although I have to say that it is a poor cousin to classic Settlers because it just cannot enjoy the same replay value. Our game also featured little of the trading which is the core of what makes Settlers the modern classic that it is, and I was left wondering if this was something intrinsic to the design- ie. more than just an accidental feature of our particular playing. This too would limit the replay appeal of the game. In any event, Andy won a handsome victory thanks to intelligent play based on a better understanding of the victory conditions than either Tony or myself.

We then turned to Rio Grande Games Mississippi Queen. Erm, what can I about this? I had a really good night once in a boozy 5-player session. I still find its design and execution elegant and charming. But I was glad when our 3-player game that Sunday was over, and felt a little embarrassed that I'd brought it out.

After this Tony sat back to let Andy and I have a go at Crimson Skies, published by the now defunct F.A.S.A. This is a game I played a few times on its initial release, enjoying it hugely, and which I have often looked at wistfully on the shelf wondering when I'd get another chance to play. It is a crunchy grognard's type of game with some lovely mechanics evoking a real feel for its subject- dogfighting with 1930's pulp super-planes. The crunchy rules are worth the effort because they generate entertaining results.

Andy and I had a lot of laughs with our game, and Tony liked the look of it too. I suspect we'll have this one out on the table again before too long. I just hope I can do better than cutting and running to save my precious planes from destruction the next time. Like, eg. getting a decent hit or two would be nice.

Who is the law?
Bill's Wednesday roleplaying session has also recently devolved into boardgaming. It began with a game of GW's 1980's classic Judge Dredd.

This is a game which wowed us all when it first came out. It had lovely components chock full of imagery from the strip of 2000AD fame. In every way the game really made us feel that we in the Megacity 1 we had come to know and love over the years.

At the same time I think I can say that it has exercised a power over our gaming imaginations unmatched even by such tactical masterpieces as our beloved (and much, much more played) Up Front. I think I can safely say that no position in our gaming history was ever more hotly contested than that of Chief Judge of Megacity 1, to the extent that even now, more than 20 years later, the news that one or other of us has managed recently to gain the position; well, let me just say that no one takes that news lightly. So, when Bill suggested we play our first game in 20 years, you can imagine what was at stake; all the more so for me since I have won and retained the position in Bill's absence in the intervening years.

Tony went into an early lead. I managed to pull off some good arrests, including picking up a major crime with Judge Dredd's help while I held the Edwin Parsey card. Bill was lagging woefully behind all this time, and he knew it. As we entered the end game I could see the prize of prizes in my grasp: a 3-time winner, including a 20-year rematch. I could retire on this for life and let the others squabble over the scraps for the duration if I pulled this one off.

Bill of course was beginning to gain on us but, perhaps influenced by his early whinges, I made the mistake of focussing my finks all too much on Tony. The decisive moment was when Tony hit Bill and I with Block War just as I was sitting in the Grand Hall of Justice ready to tool-up for my last patrol. Desperate not to be hospitalised, I played to grab a combat card from Bill's hand. He had none, nor did Tony. So I was forced to tackle Judge Rex on even terms.

The result of this was that Bill went into the endgame with a full hand of cards to mine and Tony's couple. I made a play for a crime where I'd've had to roll a 5 or 6 against the perp's 1 or 2 to make the arrest and win the greatest prize in my career as a Judge. I failed. Bill, of course, deployed every resource at his disposal to make his winning arrest without even having to roll the dice.

Oh, and it wouldn't even've mattered if I'd made that arrest: Bill had the Edwin Parsey card up his sleeve. So the only crumb of comfort I could take from not making my arrest was not having to suffer the crushing gloating of Chief Judge Rex as he wiped the grin off my face with a card play that you can be sure he'd've timed to deadly perfection. At least we had a good belly laugh about that one afterwards.

We revisit more classics
Bill fancied some Up Front on his most recent visit. Tony was happy to sit and watch, and I willingly obliged. We started off with Bill's Japanese against my Marines in Surprise Attack. Lovely, I thought- my least favourite squad in the game, asleep at their posts against an onrushing Japanese horde. You've just got to treat them right, said Bill. So I did. I survived the initial Japanese hail of fire (premature IMO), rallied, and won a crushing victory; which consisted of beating the Japanese at their own game- ie. close combat, and gunning down the remains of the Japanese squad as they closed-in to attempt what their betters had so conspicuously failed to achieve.

Undaunted, Bill took us back to the jungle, where I ended up taking in the Japanese against the British in Jungle Assault. I was happy to play this one- a 17-man Japanese squad with 2 LMG and 2 mortars has that effect on you. I couldn't be complacent though: British rifleman backed up by a Vickers MMG are rightly feared.

I quickly ran my mortars forward to get them in range, and began raining down fire on the British MMG. These kept the British usefully pinned so that my 2 LMG groups weren't suffering too much fire. Unfortunately they weren't going anywhere much. When I finally got Sgt. Okimoto's group moving, they found the inevitable marsh. The upshot of that was that I ended up having to charge the lone Sgt. Okimoto forward in the faint (but very real) hope that he could win the game single-handed with some serious bayonetting. In the end though, time constraints forced him to banzai, which proved instantly fatal.

During the post-mortem we agreed that I had played a poor game. Sure, my mortars had kept Bill's MMG group pinned, which minimised my casualties for a long while. But I'd been unable to exploit the opportunity because my other groups weren't sufficiently advanced- a poorly coordinated mad rush in other words. This was compounded by the fact that my hails of mortar fire ate up a significant portion of the deck. Contrariwise, Bill pointed out that he'd had a strange game: pinned for so long and unable to do much, he'd essentially won almost through inaction. But those are the vagaries of Up Front.

A game of Nuclear War rounded the evening off. Thanks to his missing his first turn, Bill was knocked out even before he had a chance to play. I mourned the fact that it'd been Tony's propaganda which'd delivered the coup de grace because I'd decided to spread the hurt after hitting Bill for 25 million the previous turn. Then Bill had to sit and watch Tony and I slowly pound away at each other until I finally won. Nuclear War is a great beer and pretzel game whose merits lie in player interaction and the way it generates a domino effect. We all agreed that the game that night had demonstrated none of those features, and it'd even've been better if we just called it off. But Bill also agreed that this was Nuclear War, so there could be no question of that.
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